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SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA
By Robert Kegel
San Joaquin County, in central California, is not the place to go these days if you plan to commit insurance fraud. District Attorney John D. Phillips states, “San Joaquin County will not tolerate attacks such as this on businesses that locate here and provide jobs and services for our residents.”
Without enough county funds to go around, Phillips notes that, “violent crime takes precedence over non-violent.” His office doesn’t have money to keep statistics, but he said that he knows fraud is an increasing problem based on his 13 years of work in white-collar prosecutions. Since the California Attorney General’s office abolish~d its fraud unit three years ago, “our resources devoted to fraud generally are collapsing,” he states.
In spite of these challenges, the San Joaquin District Attorney’s office has continued to rack up impressive victories in cases involving fraud. Recommendations that state courts be given power to freeze assets of fraud offenders as well as recommendations for mandatory prison sentences on felonies against victims over age 65 could help in the fight against fraud. Phillips went on to recommend an aggressive approach against fraud artists, “We arrest white collar defendants, nearly every one of them. We hunt them down and arrest them at work, driving their cars. • And if we can’t find them, we announce the warrant to the media and someone turns them in.” He said a little time in jail makes defendants more cooperative. “Their cases proceed smoother and faster, and they seem to pay better attention. “
One of the office’s recent successes resulted in a 75-day jail term, three years’ formal probation and a $500 fine for a man who played guitar for a country-western band while he collected workers’ compensation benefits. The defendant said he was not working and had not received any payments for services since he injured his ankle in 1990 at his lumber company job. Court records indicate that he was the band leader and that the band received nearly $36,000 from one bar during 1992 and 1993.
Another case resulted in a 45-day jail sentence, 5 years’ felony probation, a $1,000 fine and 200 hours of community service for a woman who pled no contest to attempted fraud charges. In addition, she has been prohibited from entering COSTCO stores during her probation. She filed a claim against COSTCO saying she hurt her hip when she slipped on a piece of cheese quesadilla. She claimed the cheese was from a free sample table set up in the store.
Witnesses said they saw the woman’s five-year-old son toss the cheese on the floor. They watched her walk over to it and “deliberately” step on it. The six witnesses were brought to court and sat in a row behind her at her preliminary hearing, apparently precipitating her plea of no contest.
One witness said, “The first thing that came to my mind was, that lady just faked an accident.” Another said the woman, “threw herself on the ground to a sitting position. It was totally fake, and planned.”
Prosecuting attorney Stephen Taylor said, “She did it in front of a lot of people. Maybe it never occurred to her that other shoppers would get upset about this.”
© 1995 John Cooke Fraud Report